The case for always-on transparency

11th February 2016

People’s increased demand for transparency – as consumers, advocates for social issues, voters and more – is shifting how organisations around the world communicate.

In our new report, Always-On Transparency, we explore the way that corporations, nonprofits, foundations and government bodies engage in dialogue about their work and its impact – and the important lessons learned along the way.

The report includes a five-step roadmap: a starting point for organisations across sectors to align their practices with best-in-class transparency efforts.

Always-On Transparency is the second instalment of a five-part Innovation Trends Report series developed by our Social Impact practice, a global team working across corporate social responsibility, sustainability and social issues.

The aim of the series is to build awareness and prompt dialogue around multi-disciplinary and collaborative efforts by companies, foundations, nonprofits and governments to solve social problems.

It is part of Weber Shandwick’s strategic focus on the Solution Economy. We believe working across boundaries, disciplines and sectors to solve tough problems can move us all forward. And it’s part of our commitment to accelerate creative solutions.

So why “always-on” transparency?

In our work, we often talk to clients about the need to be “always-on” to break through in today’s crowded communications landscape. In the context of ever-increasing means of sharing messages and opinions – and ever-increasing voices doing that sharing – it’s more important than ever to earn people’s attention and trust with timely, relevant and honest content, particularly around environmental, social and corporate governance issues.

Our client Michael Meehan, Chief Executive of the Global Reporting Initiative, underscores the importance of ongoing reporting. He has a front row seat to the shift to Always-On Transparency, as the head of an international independent organisation that helps businesses, governments and other organisations understand and communicate the impact of business on critical sustainability issues.

Michael says: “It is becoming increasingly evident that transparently reporting impact is a valuable investment. Companies that embrace transparency, for example, are increasingly more attractive to investors, as they signal less risk.

“Other benefits include improved reputation, increased employee and consumer loyalty, and more savings due to better management of resources. Perhaps the most profound benefit of reporting is the process itself, which is a powerful catalyst for continuous change and improvement.”

When working with clients to shape sustainability and corporate social responsibility reporting efforts, our team makes a point of speaking about “reporting” instead of “the report”. It may seem like a matter of semantics, but it’s an important distinction.

In our experience, by viewing the release of an annual report as one important pulse point within a broader year-round engagement strategy, companies are able to position the report as part of an ongoing conversation.

The distinction has broad implications for organisations that are embracing transparency as a means of informing stakeholders about their environmental, social and governance endeavours.

In the future, the need to drive transparency through ongoing communications will become increasingly important, as stakeholders demand it, reporting standards adopt always-on expectations and companies recognise and embrace the benefits of more open and ongoing engagement through reporting.

In the past decade, companies have disclosed environmental and social information due to internal or public pressure, not because of government regulation. This dynamic is rapidly shifting, as countries such as China, South Africa and India are already implementing policies to mandate greater transparency in non-financial corporate reporting.

And in the EU, Parliament recently passed a law requiring major businesses to report on social, environmental and human rights impact, which will become mandatory in the 2017-2018 financial year.

I hope you’ll explore this trend more in the full Always-On Transparency report. And stay tuned for more reports in the series, which will explore other trends – such as purpose-drive data, conscious crowdsourcing and inclusive global economies – that are transforming how people, organisations and systems connect to drive positive change.